A Date with Destiny

"All the stars aligned for us. Everything came together like destiny."

This was the heartfelt explanation of Bench stylist Noel Manapat as he retold the fascinating story of how Bench, the number one fashion brand in the Philippines, came to be featured on the immensely popular Hollywood TV production America's Next Top Model cycle 17, in a once-in-a-lifetime shoot in Greece.

It began with a single orchestrator, a man with a classic rags-to-riches tale named Michael Carandang. Born in the Philippines in 1979, he and his family migrated from Batangas to Indiana, USA, when he was 13 years old. Through hard work and sheer determination, Michael climbed a fast ladder to success as he went from production assistant for the Jerry Springer Show to producer of the Tyra Banks show. In 2009, he and the Tyra Banks Show team won an Emmy award for Outstanding Talk Show, a symbolic fulfillment of both the American Dream and the Filipino Dream combined. All this landed him his present position as producer for Tyra's current hit show America's Next Top Model (ANTM).

Fast forward to mid-2011. Bench proprietor Ben Chan receives word that Michael Carandang was eager to feature Bench Body underwear on ANTM. The shoot would be in Greece, and every aspect of the project would have to be done in utmost secrecy. Ben excitedly and hurriedly put together a team to fly to Greece and make it all happen. Celebrity TV host, model and longtime Bench underwear endorser Georgina Wilson was tapped to be the brand's Grand Ambassador, and Noel Manapat was called in as fashion director. They packed hundreds of Bench underwear samples to give the show's crew a near-infinite variety of merchandise to choose from.

"It was like this top secret operation," remembers Georgina. "They called me up and when I got to the airport I didn't even know where we were going! I couldn't even tell my family or my boyfriend. So when I found out that it was America's Next Top Model and it was going to be in Greece, I was just so happy and excited. And very, very proud that a Filipino brand had gone that far!"

Turns out Georgina has been an avid fan of the show since its inception, as well as admirer of Tyra Banks. She says, "Tyra is super stunning in person, and very sharp and very smart, but also down-to-earth. Everything she says or does is well thought of."

For the episode, the five semi-finalists were to model in their selected Bench Body underwear in extremely challenging positions while on an outdoor location shoot in Crete, Greece.

Regarding the episode, Georgina says, "All I can say is that production was very, very difficult. Taping the show was tough!"

    The back story here involves another Filipino design talent, the Dubai-based Michael Cinco, whose work was featured in the past season cycle 16. Michael Carandang was eager to use a Filipino couturier, and took a chance with Cinco. The risk paid off - Tyra, the rest of the judges and the crew were all deeply impressed with Cinco's incredible designs, and so Cinco's work was to be featured again in the current season for the shoot in Greece. This became the springboard for Carandang to bring in more Filipino talent and creativity, and this is where Bench came into the picture.

"The timing was perfect. It was just right place, right time, right people," relates Noel Manapat. "The key here is that Michael Carandang, though he grew up in the US, is still very close to his Filipino roots. He still regularly comes back to the country to stay in touch with where he came from. HIs love for his country is innate, and he speaks Tagalog so well. And so I think it has always been his mission to try to push Filipino talent in whatever way he can."

Georgina adds, “The episode will truly showcase the Philippines as this creative, fashionable place where you can find really amazing talent.”

"It was such a validation," Noel concludes. "To see a Filipino brand worn by these beautiful women for an international fashion reality program only proves that we truly live in a borderless world."

And not to forget - what better place than Greece, which has celebrated the human form in its arts for thousands of years, to be the setting for this wild and merry mixed Greek salad of beautiful bodies, beautiful undergarments, and beautiful intentions, all tossed together for a beautiful rendezvous with destiny.

The America's Next Top Model's episode will air on November 9, 2011, on the CW Network in the USA. America’s Next Top Model will air in the Philippines on November 14, 2011 on the ETC Channel on Mondays, 8:00-9:00pm, with replays on Thursdays at 9:00-10:00pm, Fridays at 3:00-4:00pm and Sundays at 7:00 – 7:45pm.





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